Some first places in Millrose Games

In the women’s one-mile run, it was Kara Goucher. In the girls’ PSAL 4 x 400m relay, it was Benjamin Cardozo High School. Queens representatives were not only present at the prestigious Millrose Games, but they were, in these events, the first to cross the finish line.
It started with Cardozo. In the 13th of 33 track and field events at Madison Square Garden on January 30, the Judges’ relay team finished with a time of 3:57.65 in a race that was never close. What was close was Cardozo’s push to break Boys & Girls High School’s Millrose Games record time of 3:54.98, set in 2002. The Judges had run a national-best time of 3:51.55 earlier this season, but they could not duplicate the mark on Friday.
“This is my last year, so I’m really happy,” said senior Tessa West, who ran third. “Anything can happen on this track.”
West and teammates Chamique Francis, Claudia Francis, and Ahtyana Johnson may not have beaten Boys & Girls’ mark, but they did avenge a second-place finish last year to the team from Brooklyn, when Cardozo finished 5.34 seconds out of first.
“We came out stronger [than last year], with more determination to win,” West said. “Things happen for a reason.”
Cardozo ran against five other teams on Sunday, with lone Queens compatriot Campus Magnet finishing fifth, at 4:13.85. The Bulldogs saw their finish slip from 2008, when they finished third and were 6.3 seconds faster. Nevertheless, the feelings in Magnet’s little corner of the Expo Center, where the track teams were housed, were fairly buoyant.
“Today we were going for top three,” said senior Yolanda Rumph, “but it was still an honor and a privilege to be here.”
Indeed it was. Campus Magnet’s two consecutive Millrose appearances represent a marked improvement from a program that had not qualified for the tournament in a decade.
“We’re building a tradition here,” said head coach Ricardo Bailey. “I see my team developing. They are able to compete with the other top teams in the city. … It is a lot of kids who are working hard. It’s good to see that Campus Magnet is coming back.”
Finishing between Cardozo and Magnet were Boys & Girls (4:03.06), Medgar Evers (4:03.95), and DeWitt Clinton (4:08.10). The team from Canarsie did not finish; it was but one of a bevy of high school programs on Friday to drop batons, slip on the tilted track, or trip over the inch-high barrier on the inside edge of the rubber.
Kara Goucher, in the mile, was Queens’ other winner. Representing the United States, the New York native finished with a time of 4:33.19, a full 4.58 seconds ahead of Serbia’s Marina Muncan, who finished second among eight runners. Goucher improved upon her 2008 time of 4:36.03 - a .08-second victory earned while recovering from knee surgery.
Goucher, 30, has resided away from Queens for many years. In the years since she left, she has lived in Minnesota during high school, Colorado during college, and Portland, Oregon, today. More significantly, she has spent those years racking up an NCAA championship in three different track events, a bronze medal in the 2007 IAAF World Championships in Athletics, and a first-place finish in the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials.
She has always run well in New York. In 2008, she finished the NYC Marathon in two hours, 25 minutes, and 53 seconds - good enough for third place overall, and for the best finish ever by an American woman.
“I just love New York City,” she told The Courier after her race on Friday. “This is only my third race here. The energy here is just incredible.”
Goucher was very much a focus of the in-arena presentation, drawing sizable cheers from the largely young MSG crowd and earning her share of big-screen interview time between events. The atmosphere was reminiscent of a gymnastics event, with track races in progress occasionally punctuated by the cheers of those focused on the pole-vaulters instead.
While the profile of the Millrose Games is not what it once was - the annual Penn Relays draw more attention with respect to college track - the event is still considered the highlight of New York high school track and field programs’ schedules. The Games are the oldest invitational indoor track and field meet in America; Friday showcased its 102nd annual edition.
The high jump, the shot put, and a pair of “Fastest Kid in New York” races (for seven- and eight-year-olds) were all part of the Millrose Games’ expansive agenda in 2009, but the real highlight was the “Wanamaker Mile,” which saw American Bernard Lagat tie Eamonn Coghlan’s record of seven victories.
Drawing considerably less attention than Lagat was Queens’ other high school entry: the Francis Lewis boys’ track team, which placed sixth out of six in the 4×400 meter relays. Springfield Gardens finished first with a time of 3:30.13; Lewis ran for 3:41.09 and was 5.23 seconds out of fifth place.
The Patriots did not run as well as they did in 2008, when their 3:35.80 time placed them third, but they were still proud to be the only team from Queens that qualified for the event.
“The atmosphere is better here than all the other races,” said senior Silvanous Parchment, who ran the third leg. “It’s wonderful. [It’s been] the best experience ever.”

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